Monthly Archives: November 2008

Let’s Paint Tree Roots!

Today we are going to paint a picture of an awesome tree I spotted on one of my hikes at Starved Rock. I fell in love with this tree the minute I laid eyes on it! The root structure of this oak tree made a natural step on the trail. It has stopped the erosion of dirt and sand to the best of its ability.

What character! What a good job this tree is doing. Let’s celebrate it by painting its picture! Here we go:

Step 1: Draw a loose sketch with a charcoal pencil on wallis pastel paper. You don’t have to commit to every shape when you paint so be free and enjoy.

Step 2: Turn your sketch upside down. What?!? Yes, upside down.
We are going to do a wet on wet wash of the distant background. The reason why we are painting upside down is because when your watercolor paint drips, we don’t want it to drip all over our subject. I used 4 colors in the background; yellow, green, blue and pink. Paint vertical stripes of solid color. Let them touch each other and blend nicely. While wet, take a smaller brush with dark brown/blue and make skinny little trees. REMEMBER, you are painting upside down so paint your little trees upside down branching towards the bottom (upside down top) of the painting. Let completely dry or use a hair dryer if you are impatient like me.

Step 3: Turn right side up and make a nice drippy wash of the ground ignoring the tree, roots, and patch where the leaves collected. You have to do this wet on wet and quickly so your colors can bleed into one another. Oh it’s so much fun. The water goes where it wants…don’t be a control freak and manipulate the paint…let it go where it wants. The watercolor will do wonderful things for you when allowed to.

Speaking of wonderful, look what the water did! This is a close up picture just to the right of the tree. This is called a bloom. Many watercolor artists hate it…I LOVE IT! It is the result of excess water spreading and pushing pigment around. To me, the water has created fine tree roots all by itself, without me asking or forcing it to do that. This will not be covered up with pastels, but left alone. It was meant to be there. It wants to be there.

Step 4: OK moving on… There’s a lot to do here. With watercolor, paint in the tree and roots using a blue and green mixture, variegating between strengths of color. Remember where your highlights will be, leaving the top of the roots lighter. Paint the leaf patch a crimson color with watercolors as well. Dry this with your dryer or go have a snack, you’ve earned a break.
When thoroughly dry, establish your lightest colors and darkest color with pastel. The lightest color is the top of the step, a sort of sandy color. This area of starved rock is all sandstone so the color fits. With the darkest pastel I’m going to use, I make shadow colors beneath the step and on the base of the roots.

Step 5 Final: With your pastels, add some lovely oak leaves of various autumn colors. Add a touch of crazy color for excitement like the electric blue. It really gets your attention.
I like to leave much of my painting alone, allowing the watercolor drips to show through. You don’t have to do that if you don’t want to.

I always ask my kids to critique my painting when finished…they hate to do it! I make them anyway…I like to hear their first reaction, It means a lot to me. Anyway, my son said he really likes the tree…“but you’re missing a lot of sections!” He was referring to my drip marks and white space. HA, ha, ha! I meant to do that, little snot!

This painting is called, “The Thanksgiving Tree”.
When deeply rooted in Faith and Family, you can prevent the erosion in your life even in these uncertain economic times. Here is a fitting verse:

“…that Christ may dwell on your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Eph 3:17-19.

I hope you have enjoyed this step by step painting demonstration of, “The Thanksgiving Tree”, a demonstration on painting tree roots with watercolors and pastel paints!


Nuthatch at my Feeder

Oh BOY! Look who came for a visit at my feeder today!!!

It’s the white-breasted nuthatch! My friend now, I guess.

So why the heck am I so excited about a year round bird in my state of Illinois? Because he never visits me! Today he did. No lie, I never see this guy at my feeder. Sure, I see him all the time at The Little Red Schoolhouse or in the forest preserves, but never at my house.

I have two feeders in the front yard. One is an upside down suet feeder that only the woodpeckers and nuthatches can feed on (oh, and the occasional bad squirrel that hangs from the hook and turns it over), and a regular seed feeder. Today my nuthatch friend had supper from both feeders. He hung upside down to feast on suet and then he grabbed a seed (probably sunflower) and flew away to a near by tree to hatch it!

Oh yeah! He likes me now!

Let’s Learn about the White-Breasted Nuthatch:

Small bird 5-6″
Hops down a tree stump headfirst
Hind claw is 2x the size of front claws (maybe helps him go headfirst)
Wedges seed in crevice of tree to hatch it open
Year round in Illinois

Today’s painting is from my sketchbook. D=date, T=time, C=conditions, and A=area of subject. It was completed with Winsor & Newton travel watercolors and Micron pens…and a little nature love. 🙂

Let’s Paint Autumn Berries!

When I was at Starved Rock I found more blue berries. Not blueberries, but blue berries. That fact alone has made it impossible for me to identify this plant on a search site because the site always wants to substitute my berries. I’m guessing buckthorn family, but I really don’t know. Here is the photo:

Never letting a lack of knowledge stand in my way, I’m painting it anyway…that’s how I learn.

So let’s get going and paint Autumn Berries!

Step 1: This is going to be a watercolor painting. I taped my paper down, masked my leaves with Grumbacher Miskit fluid (that orange stuff) and made a nice drippy purple wash in the background. I love drippy backgrounds. I’m not sure why but it gives the painting a bit of interest. It’s also just loads of fun to run watercolors on the floor or on your lap! 😀

Step 2: I removed one leaf’s masking fluid and started painting the berries. When painting berries, don’t paint them all the same color even if you think they are the same color. Light reflects on them differently due to space, so it’s reflected color really is different, plus objects can take on the color of things around them.

Step 3: Oh this is fun! Paint some yellow leaves and while wet add a touch of green and brown. Scrape the leaf with the edge of a sharp object to make some veins. The indented paper will suck up some color and look nice.

Step 4: Add the twig and branch. Don’t forget those viny things going crazy in nature, that too is so much fun I can hardly bare it!

Step 5 Final: I always like to touch up my watercolors with ink. Some people do, some people don’t, it’s just a personal preference. The painting in step 4 could have been the final if you wanted it to. In this step I just used a Micron pen and went around the leaves, berries, and some crazy viny things.

Ta-Da it’s finished!

This watercolor is called Autumn Berries. The image is 6.4×4.5 placed in a 10×8 off white mat.
$40.00 plus free shipping. Does not come with a frame.
If interested in purchasing click here. You do not need a pay pal account.

I hope you enjoyed this step by step demonstration on how to paint autumn berries!

Hummingbirds in November in Chicago???

No way…

Yes way!

Daily Herald photographer George LeClaire not only witnessed one, but took terrific photos! If you’re not excited yet, the one he witnessed was a rufous hummingbird! The rufous hummingbird is rarely spotted in this area, only visiting durring migration.

Click here to see George’s photos and read the article.

Thanks George for the heads up…you’re such a lucky ducky!
Chris 🙂

Canyons at Starved Rock

I had the fortunate opportunity to escape to Staved Rock in Utica, IL this weekend! Starved Rock is about an hour and a half west of Chicago. The area contains miles of trails and several canyons with waterfalls!

Today I walked a one mile trail to St. Louis Canyon:

This canyon is magnificent. The picture does not give justice to it’s massive scale. Do you see the red, green, and blue colors in the rock? I’m sure there’s a scientific reason for those specific colors. I don’t know what it is, I just think the colors are beautiful!

Here is a look of the opposite side wall and a better understanding of scale:

Do you see a human? Wow, the walls are huge!

The floor is speckled with white in this picture, even though it was 35°F, there was no snow. The white color you see is sand!

The walls of the canyon are sandstone. The floor of the canyon is sand, just like at the beach, but the color of the sand is bright white. It was a little tough to walk through in hiking boots, but well worth it!

More canyons later!